January 15, 2010
Four Alpha Zeta members from Nevada, Cal Epsilon and the National Office recently traveled to the Caribbean to join members of the Puerto Rico chapter for the Service Leadership Experience. For six days, we participated in two service projects, toured several farms, went on hikes, explored some caves, swam at a beautiful beach and exquisite river with a waterfall, and tasted some excellent food! We had a small group but got along great and had a fantastic time. Here is a sampling of our adventures:
Thursday, January 7th -- It was a perfect time to go to a tropical island because St. Louis and much of the Midwest had just gotten a small blizzard the night before. Needless to say, my second flight from Chicago to San Juan, PR got delayed about 3 hours. Once finally arriving in Puerto Rico, I immediately took off my fleece jacket, rolled up my long-sleeve shirt and wished I had shorts and sandals on instead of jeans and tennis shoes. Oscar Velez Juarbe and Abner Custudio from the Puerto Rico chapter meet me at the airport along with Emily Morgan (Cal Epsilon, ‘04), Jason Entsminger (Nevada, ‘07) and Allecia Mills (Nevada ‘09). We hopped in the van and set off for our 2.5 hour ride across the Island to Mayaguez. After arriving and getting settled into our hotel, we went for a walk and Oscar and Abner showed us around the town square before heading in for the night.
Friday, January 8th
-- Oscar picked us up bright and early at 6:30 am and we headed to do a beach cleanup at The Guánica Bay called El Malecón. There is a very large problem in this area of people and restaurants dumping their trash into the water and upstream in the river. It all ends up along the coast and beach of El Malecón. The residents and locals know of the problem and know who is doing the dumping but the culprets are sneaky about it and there is no one to regulate and prevent it from happening. We were told that a big clean up like the one we were doing has to be done once every three months. The six of us, with help from a few other AZ PR members: Ricardo, Frank and Mehelio, spent the morning picking up all the trash, bottles, shoes, Styrofoam and other garbage off the beach and loading up trash bags. By around 12:30pm, we had enough full trash bags to fill up and overflow the bed of a pickup truck! After a good, long hand-washing, we had lunch at a local restaurant just down the road. We got to sample some of the local food and dishes. After lunch we drove to Guánica which is in southwest PR and went for a hike in the Guánica Dry Forest. After a nice long hike uphill, we climbed down into and explored the Guánica Bat Cave and another nearby cave with lots of Beehives. In the second cave we ran into some tourists from New Jersey who got their hands a little dirty. ;) After a quick nap and some dinner we went to play some pool and listen to a local band play some great music!
Saturday, January 9th
-- In the morning we drove to Cabo Rojo to a Nature Reserve that was the property of the US Fish and Wildlife. Here we would be helping with a reforestation project by planting around 75 native trees. Luckily all the holes were already started for us, we just had to dig them a little deeper, cut open the pots and drop the root balls in. We covered them with dirt and then built up a mount of mulch about a foot high around each tree so that it would help retain water. After a very warm morning in the sun planting trees, we were all ready for a little relaxation. After lunch we drove to the Cabo Rojo Lighthouse and one of the three best beaches in Puerto Rico called "Playuela Beach." We spent the afternoon floating and playing in the water, laying on the white, sandy beaches and a few people even took a walk down the beach to explore. It was a beautiful day at the beach!
Sunday, January 10th
-- Oscar took us to a local bakery in the morning to try some fresh pastries for breakfast. Several of us tried "quesitos" that were stuffed with cheese. They were delicious! Then we drove to Aguada to visit Starchy Crops Farms at the Coloso Valley. Here, there are the remains of the last Sugar Cane Processing Plant that closed operations in Puerto Rico.
The farmer’s son, Freddie, took us around to different parts of the farm, showing us different starchy crops including some gigantic yams that Oscar dug up for us to take home. We also tasted some pigeon peas and got to see and learn how plantains are grown. On the way back, we stopped by Freddie’s Uncle’s house. He has a large greenhouse where he grows cilantro to sell to local restaurants and grocery stores. He was gracious enough to give us each a bushel of fresh cilantro to take home. After a late lunch we drove to San Sebastián to swim in the El Guamá waterfall. It took a steep, muddy hike to get there, but was well worth the trip! The fresh water flowing over the waterfall was very cold but we had an amazing time swimming in the river and waterfall.
Monday, January 11th
-- On our last full day in Puerto Rico, we gathered up the troops and set out on a long drive to Adjuntas, PR for a hike in the mountains. The windy, hilly mountain roads made a few of us a little car sick and dizzy, but we made it without any major traumas. Oscar led the way on our hike in the "Guilarte Forest." It was quite an uphill climb but after almost a mile everyone made it to the top -- man what a view!! We could see for miles and miles without much else being higher than we were. It was as if we were on to of the world! We took lots of pictures before beginning our hike back down. Who would have thought it is easier to go up a steep mountain than go down! On the way to our next destination, we stopped to explore one more cave. The "Ventana Cave" was pitch black once you got down into the heart of it. We weren’t very well prepared with no flashlights to
explore with, but Oscar put his camera flash to good use and slowly guided us back through the cave. It was so dark, we all held hands in a long line and felt our way through the rocky cave. Eventually, we saw the light at the end of the tunnel, literally. As we got closer to the end of the cave, we realized it was a large opening that looked out over the land below. What an incredible view!! It was as if someone blasted a hole in the side of this mountain and there we were looking out of. A friendly dog that was resting in the cave led the way back out and back down to the van. Next, we headed to Arecibo which is in northern Puerto Rico and also home to the Arecibo Observatory and the World's largest radio telescope. The telescope is visually distinctive and has been used in the filming of notable movies and TV shows including the James Bond movie GoldenEye, Contact, and even an episode of the The X-Files.
On Tuesday, January 12th, we sadly packed our bags and headed back to San Juan to catch our flights home. I know we all had an amazing time in Puerto Rico and owe a big thanks to the Puerto Rico Alpha Zeta’s that showed us around. This trip would not have been possible and nearly as amazing without them! For more pictures of the trip, visit the Alpha Zeta facebook fan page: http://www.facebook.com/AlphaZeta